(I’ll issue an almost-assured Trigger Alert/Content Warning for those who are especially sensitive to the grieving and suffering of others, and/or, despite its gentleness in this case, domestic animal euthanasia.)
In my arms, she looked up.
My heart melted.
I had just pulled her from the rear of the cage at the local SPCA, where she’d been perched quietly, her presence alone enough to draw sufficient attention, and she had just revealed to me that her little white chin and her little white bib were connected by a little white stripe.
My heart was in a puddle on the linoleum floor.
If there’s a such thing as love at first sight, this was it. I was filled to the brim–and overflowing–with it.
The shelter was her false and temporary haven. Unbeknownst (or not) to her, the clock was ticking. She was too dignified, too Significant, for a place like this.
We had already discovered and bonded with the little red/orange-and-white tabby; he had already fallen asleep on my partner’s chest, despite the chaotic, sensory-assaulting surroundings.
She stayed awake.
She was always awake. Except, of course, for those six-hour stretches of time in the evening, during which she’d lay flat on her back on the floor with her little white feet spread. I know I’ve used the word “white” a lot; but the rest of her was black, save for a white belly, white paws and feet, and white whiskers.
But I digress…
I would bring both of them home a week later, in 100-degree outside temperatures, in a tiny Ford Ranger pickup with unreliable A/C and almost 100,000 miles racked up in just four years. The kittens would be safely contained in an animal carrier on my front seat, with the seat belt wrapped around the side to secure it as best I could.
I drove down the semi-rural North Texas county road toward our home that would, in a matter of minutes, soon be their home, too, and I made them a promise.
I was fully aware that we were artificially extending their lives, by removing all access to natural predators, threats, and other unkind means of feline population control. I knew that the burden to know when to let them go with maximal dignity and minimal suffering had been transferred to us. It was now ours. I felt its weight in my hands.
My promise to them was to recognize when it was Time, time to let them go, and to follow through. I’d never let them wallow and suffer. Ever.
One day, not quite 11 years later, she stopped eating. It baffled us; she gave us every indication that she wanted her chicken breast, all the way up until it was on her plate in front of her. She didn’t eat it.
She looked up, almost pleading. My heart melted, this time in sorrow and desperation.
She wanted to eat, but it was as if she couldn’t.
Fast forward three months; the biopsy results were in. They were positive for malignancy.
It was lymphoma.
The kind that produces no tumor that can simply be excised.
The kind you don’t walk away from.
I knew I would have to make good on my original promise, the promise I’d made at the end of that joyful summer of 2002, when I was bringing home those kittens, with bright, hopeful eyes, despite still being groggy from their spay/neuter surgeries. Their lives had been so full of hope, promise, potential, a clean slate.
Maddie’s future wasn’t so clean anymore; it was filled with an invisible monster that was eating her away.
In the gut-wrenching and mind-numbing situation of one day not being recognizably different from the day before, and caught in the deceptive undertow of “good days and bad days”, we struggled with ourselves.
Finally, we meditated and prayed.
We asked the Universe for a Sign.
One night, it came. She wasn’t moving much. She was awake–not truly Alive, but merely eking out an existence. The Light had gone out of those penetrating, Sentient eyes, eyes that had brought many genuine compliments over the years. She stared, slightly downward, unable to do anything else at all.
We had to make good on our promise.
Her fate was sealed that night. We’d make the Phone Call to the vet in the morning.
The Phone Call no one with a heart ever wants to make.
The next morning, three years ago today, she purred all the way to the vet, for the first time ever. She knew what was coming. She welcomed the relief she knew it would bring. I drove, but my truck was almost on autopilot. I talked to her soothingly, more for myself and my partner than for her.
She was ready to be set free once again. She was at peace. We were anything but.
But her peace was what counted, what mattered.
I carried her in, much like I had carried her out of the shelter almost 11 years before, in 2002. The air was hot; the sky was blue. It was a blissfully, deceptively beautiful day.
In my arms, she looked up.
She had always been filled with wonder and awe. She saw things that the average person never could.
In the exam room, she didn’t look up.
The vet came in. She was very gentle, very compassionate. She made sure that everyone involved was ready.
Maddie was. I knew we never would be.
The needles went in.
Their contents pulsed through.
It was quick, calm, painless (for Maddie).
She danced across the Rainbow Bridge, into the Ether. We felt her peace, her relief. Her body suddenly grew heavy; all that was left was her shell.
My heart melted one last time…
…in a puddle on the linoleum floor.
Madison Renee S.
Born: July 24, 2002, time unknown, in Dallas, TX
Died: July 5, 2013 at 10.56am CDT, in San Antonio, TX
Follow your Spirit, Little One ❤